Sunday, August 7, 2016

New HP Posting, House Repairs, Another Visit from Daughter Stephanie (returning from Portugal this time), Weather, Latin America, Conventions, Trump Campaign Redux

Ladders, front and back, repairing 120-year-old house after Snowmaggedon 2016

 Granddaughter Natasha, great-grandson De'Andre, daughters Melanie & Stephanie

De'Andre, age 8 1/2, far right, at football practice, heavily padded and helmeted, though I still worry, but he loves the game
Daughter Steph, second from left with 6th-grade schoolmates 30 years later

Most people in the US (and the West) have a simplistic view of Gitmo (as they have of most issues regarding Cuba and, frankly, anything else) as a terrible place. That’s one reason I was moved to write my latest Cuba HP blog, also picked up by Democracia Participativa:

In addition to closing the prison, many Americans would favor giving that territory back to Cuba. It doesn't look like either is going to happen before the end of the Obama administration. And most people don't know the history of how the US came to occupy G'tmo. The US, rather than being a voracious imperialist power, actually helped Cuba win independence from Spain and could have kept possession of the whole island, as it did with Puerto Rico, something many Cubans actually wanted at the time and which could perhaps have prevented the rise of the Castro dictatorship (then, Castro might have been directly fighting the US instead of Batista). In any case, Cubans would gladly escape now to G'tmo if they could and some have remained living there happily for decades. For Cuban rafters, while they were dismayed at first about being taken there, it turned out to be a good transition. Too bad rafters today cannot go there on the same basis. I feel sorry for the Cubans stuck in Colombia now being sent back to Cuba. But the initial hospitality or indifference of Central and South American countries finally gave way to hostility toward Cubans passing through when their numbers became too massive and the flow continued unabated. The same is happening in Europe now with migrants there. I deliberately post about Cuba on Huffington Post, as I may have said before, because it is considered fairly liberal or progressive site and that is the readership I want to reach and get them thinking about Cuba in a more critical way, and not just reaching Cuban Americans who may already agree with me. 

We have certainly been suffering from oppressively hot and humid weather in DC and along the east coast, approaching 100F day after day in July, and, once, had strong, deafening thunderstorms with pounding hail almost as big as golf balls. It was scary!  I had lost some hearing in my right ear from a thunderclap after almost being struck by lightning in Honduras, as readers of my first book know, so I am not fond of thunder and lightning. Unfortunately, because of bitter complaints by my neighbors on the attached side, who extended their house back and located their new master bedroom under my rooftop central A/C unit, I agreed not to turn on the A/C this summer until I licensed contractor was able to check it out while doing other repairs, always necessary in house over 100 years old. He pronounced the A/C unit completely normal, but I asked him to put padding under it anyway to see if that helps soften vibrations that the neighbors say were bothering them.   They were not satisfied last year when another workman said there was nothing whatsoever wrong with my A/C unit. The recent contractor thinks there may be something metal in the walls of an addition the neighbors made that is conducting the vibrations, My daughter Stephanie, visiting from Hawaii, has stayed in the basement with its window A/C unit, but I’ve had no one else staying with me lately. Two girls who were here in the spring went home to Europe for the summer, so I just left their rooms vacant, waiting for their return.
Am giving a shout-out now to my good friend Anna, who lives in RI, but whom I have known since my teenage years in Colombia and who visited me in Honduras when I was in Peace Corps there. Anna, who will soon be 79, was happily adjusting to assisted living 18 months ago when a facility vehicle ran over her, leaving her near death and in a rehab hospital ever since. She had to have a leg amputated recently below the knee because of chronic infection and now has begun walking on a prosthetic leg, already able to take many consecutive steps with a walker. She says that it feels different, of course, than walking on a flesh-and-blood leg and foot, but she should be rightly proud that she has survived and made it this far. She hopes to be able to leave the hospital finally since the accident, which occurred in Dec. 2014. Talk about a survivor, that’s Anna! She has filed a claim against the facility where she was injured, but the court date keeps being pushed back—the other side may hope she dies before they have to settle.
Congratulations to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, now celebrating their platinum or 70th wedding anniversary. Few people or marriages survive that long. And from once knowing the Carters during Jimmy’s presidency and beyond, I would hazard a guess that theirs has been a mutually faithful and close union. They’ve always had a strong religious faith and Jimmy is still teaching Sunday school in Plains.
Were you following the Democratic Convention, quite a contrast with the Republican Convention of lthe prior week, dominated by Donald Trump and his offspring? If he should win, I feel sorry for anyone having to work with him—maybe his kids will take key positions. Wife Melania doesn’t seem interested in a public role and seems inclined to stay home with her young son in NYC. In fact, Donald might decide to commute from NY to DC himself, as he is not fond of the nation’s capital, and might prefer to mostly work out of his NYC office. He seems uninterested in following precedent. The Democrats’ effort now is to make Hillary seem more human and trustworthy. As I've said, when I was in smaller meetings (gun control, health) with her as First Lady, she seemed quite responsive and personable. But when she gives a campaign speech now, she appears more strident, perhaps because she's mostly shouting and has bigger audience. I agree with her that she’s not a natural politician like her husband. The trust gap may be partly due to some of her actions during her long time in the public spotlight, but maybe also because she is a woman and we cut women less slack. Gen. Patraeus’s breach was more egregious, but he was slapped only with a minor charge and no jail time and seems to have suffered little public scorn—of course, he’s teaching, not running for president, as he might have done otherwise. For Hillary, it’s “Lock her up!” or even “Shoot her!”

Donald Trump has now said that he felt like punching some DNC speakers “so hard,” "No more Mr. Nice Guy," and that he’s “taking the gloves off.” The gloves were on before?? He’s still fighting mad, nothing really new there. Does he have any sort of positive program? Does he have any sort of program at all? It might also be said that Clinton lucked out in having Trump as her opponent, which actually gives her a fighting chance following 2 Democratic presidential terms. Trump’s behavior is so outlandish that it’s more absurd than fiction. Cuban and other foreign analysts must be completely puzzled. Is voting really the best way to choose a leader? The whole world will heave a sigh of relief if/when Hillary wins in November. Meanwhile, since Trump is so thin-skinned and impulsive, might he just quit the race in a fit of pique? That would surely be unprecedented and create disarray. But it might best for the Republican Party. Since he’s already saying the election is rigged, maybe he’s looking for a way out. Paul Ryan’s name is being floated—he would attract more votes than Trump and really give Hillary a run for her money. She must be hoping that Trump remains in the race. Trump is so sensitive to criticism that maybe it’s not as much fun for him to be the nominee as it was before and during the convention when he was in his glory with his wife and kids all around him. Are the kids managing his business? He could always quit without notice and go back to his business.

Here’s a funny (if the situation weren’t so serious) parody of a fake Trump announcement that he’s leaving the presidential race.

As someone who has lost a child, actually two, counting my foster son, I can say unequivocally that Donald Trump has no idea of the pain that such a loss causes. Certainly his insult to a Gold Star Muslim family does nothing whatsoever to hurt them; their suffering renders his ignorant natterings little more than pinpricks, evidence of his shocking lack of knowledge and empathy. That a fair number of voters still continue to stubbornly support him remains worrisome. I imagine that Pence, his running mate, may be having second thoughts about the commitment he has made.
Trump and Clinton do have opposite styles and could learn something from each other. Trump is all about spontaneity and winging it, saying whatever comes to mind—so no one knows quite what to expect. Ha ha! Surprise! Tricked you! Some of that unscripted quality in a candidate is refreshing. Most people like to be amused, challenged, and feel that they are seeing the real person. But spontaneity in a leader has to be combined with some specific plans that can always be adjusted for circumstances. If anything, Hillary is seen as too planful and calculating, like waiting 8 years to try again for the presidency.
But I still feel a little excited about the prospects of a female president. Hillary has hung onto Bill’s coattails, but many political wives have long labored behind the scenes to further their husband’s careers, so it’s good to see the favor being returned. (I certainly promoted and worked unseen and tirelessly for my late ex-husband—who was blind--for more than 20 years.) Indeed, there are political or other dynasties built on being the spouses, siblings, or offspring of office-holders or celebrities. Only a few very lucky or very clever people actually “make it” from scratch all on their own. And many who work very hard never find success in this always highly competitive world.
As I read Kaine’s abortion stance, he supports the law of the land in the Supreme Court decision, but not public funding of abortions, which was not required by the Supreme Ct. decision.

It was heartening to see DC statehood for the first time in the Democratic Party platform. Do we have Bernie to thank for that? And now, according to Fox News, Bernie Sanders has left the Democratic Party and gone back to being an independent. Does that mean he isn’t going to campaign with Hillary or would refuse a position in her administration?

The Democratic platform regarding Latin America and Cuba mentions the travel ban and the embargo--also human rights and freedoms, but apparently the 2 are not tied together. The travel ban is a joke--massive US tourism is now flooding Cuba. Human rights are mentioned, but how to encourage them is the unanswered question.
Americas The Americas are a region of singular strategic, economic, and cultural importance and opportunity for the United States. Democrats reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on our southern border and alienate Mexico, a valuable partner. We will instead embrace our neighbors and pursue strong, fruitful partnerships across the region, from Canada to Latin America and the Caribbean. We will bolster democratic institutions, promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, transnational crime, and corruption. We will strengthen the U.S.- Caribbean regional relationship through economic development and comprehensive immigration reform. And we will build on our long-term commitment to Colombia and work with Central American countries to stabilize the Northern Triangle. In Cuba, we will build on President Obama’s historic opening and end the travel ban and embargo. We will also stand by the Cuban people and support their ability to decide their own future and to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms that people everywhere deserve. In Venezuela, we will push the government to respect human rights and respond to the will of its people. And in Haiti, we will support local and international efforts to bolster the country’s democratic institutions and economic development. We will also help more Haitians take advantage of Temporary Protected Status. Finally, we will close the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, because we believe that military and police forces should support democracy, not subvert it.
Meanwhile, the Koch brothers are focusing on Republicans running for the Senate, tying Democrats to Hillary Clinton there. A strongly partisan Republican Senate would certainly thwart anything Hillary tried to do.

Here’s a provocative plea for the maintenance of national borders; does that run contrary to the idea of universal human rights or can the two co-exist?

It was bound to happen. Pregnant women worried about microcephaly when I was in Honduras last Feb. are now having babies with birth defects.
President Obama is expanding the refugee program for Central Americans being screened in their own country: 
Obama to Allow More Refugees to Come to U.S. The Obama administration is expanding an effort to allow some Central American families to come to the United States as refugees, July 26, 2016,

The DR is thought to be the main source of Zika cases in the US:

Below is a provocative article about something that has puzzled me for a while, including in regard to Cuba, and would explain why so much really bad behavior by the Castros is tolerated by the world and by intellectuals. I had thought maybe it was the Cuban regime’s convincing PR and their supposed support of equality for all citizens via “socialism.” The following author instead argues that such support runs deeper, as many intellectuals identify as liberals or even “socialists” themselves— at least, sympathetic to socialist ideals of equality. This self-identification blinds them to horrors committed under the banner of socialism, since if many well-known “socialists” are tyrants. Or maybe they don’t want to believe that the heroes of socialism—such as Fidel Castro—are really not good guys and that their judgment of them—of him—has been wrong? Anyway, read it and see what you think (he argues that Mao was the world’s worst mass murderer).

This link says it all:

In a reminder of when Cuban youth and “volunteers” were sent to the countryside to work in agriculture and listen to evening indoctrination lessons, Venezuela is tackling its current food shortage in a similar manner. (Cuba largely gave up on agriculture, importing most food.) 
A new decree establishing that any employee in Venezuela can be effectively made to work in the country’s fields as a way to fight the current food crisis is unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labor, said Amnesty International.
“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Venezuelan zoo animals dying of starvation reminds me of the special period in Cuba (perhaps returning now, despite massive remittances and tourism from the US?) when zoo animals could not be fed. This below is from my book:

At a beach designated for Cubans managed by the Eastern Beaches Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (according to its sign), Andrés whisked us past the overseers lest foreigners be prohibited from entering, just as Cubans were barred from tourist beaches. Though quite crowded there, we enjoyed a refreshing swim.
Walking home later, we passed by the site of the former Moscow Restaurant, once occupying a whole city block, but mysteriously burned to the ground after the Soviet departure leaving only a charred ruin. Half a dozen individuals were rummaging through nearby dumpsters.
Andrés insisted on showing us the zoo where all the animals had been removed from outside cages after several had been poached for food. “It’s really hard to keep all the animals fed anyway,” he observed. “This was once a fairly decent zoo, but, like everything else, it’s gone downhill.” The gate attendant regarded us suspiciously, saying no foreigners were allowed inside, not even by paying admission. Andrés loudly chewed the guy out. “You see why I want to leave this country?” he asked in exasperation as we departed. “As party members, they just love lording it over the rest of us.”
As the first Cubans deported from Colombia arrived back in Cuba, the Cuban government was blaming “wet-foot/dry-foot” for the surge (with considerable justification).  (Obama could probably change that by executive order, as it was first declared by President Bill Clinton.) Now, apparently more Cubans are instead contemplating the perilous sea journey, where they may drown, but also be picked up by the US Coast Guard and returned to Cuba, as has happened to some 6,000 already this fiscal year (including, I presume, the hapless folks who landed on a lighthouse, which a judge decided was not US soil).

St. Petersburg Could Become Home to Cuban Consulate By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
[That would be better than Miami, which would just become a magnate for protests.] 
 ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jul 30, 2016

As Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday approaches this month, he and his old-guard followers are reportedly redoubling their resistance to any relaxation of controls.
I'm very worried now about Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, now on hunger strike again, a hunger strike veteran who has almost died on previous strikes and has suffered some permanent health damage as a result—as he once told me on a visit here about 3 years ago. If he should die, it would be a black mark both for the Castro regime and the Obama administration, not to mention Amnesty International.
At least 17 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) on huger strike. Guillermo Fariñas on the sixth day of his hunger and thirst strike.
#Cuba A 17 asciende el número de miembros de #UNPACU en huelga de hambre. Guillermo Fariñas en su sexto día de huelga de hambre y sed— José Daniel Ferrer (@jdanielferrer)
 Miami Herald, JULY 27, 2016 Castro mediates Colombian peace deal - but won’t talk to Cuban dissidents
Cuban President Gen. Raul Castro has been applauded by world leaders for his mediation in Colombia’s peace talks. But Castro refuses to talk with his own country’s peaceful opposition
It’s time to demand that Cuba’s dictatorship abide by the international treaties it has signed, and allow basic freedoms.
I hardly claim to know the future. Nobody really does. We can map out plans, but chaos theory shows that events are not always predictable. Unexpected spikes do change the historical trajectory. This has happened in my personal life. I was married for 24 years to a husband who was blind—I worked closely with him during his successful career in politics and policy making. We had four children. Little did I expect that he would divorce me and re-marry. Even more disruptive was something that far overshadowed my divorce, namely, the sudden death of my older son, Andrew, after an accident on his job in 1994. That was followed the next year by the death from AIDS of my Cuban foster son Alex. All that is chronicled in my books. So, I have come to expect the unexpected in my own life and that holds true for national and world events as well. Who would have predicted the rise of ISIS? The migrant crisis? The plunge in oil prices? Donald Trump’s political ascendency? Or even the Obama/Raul Castro accords regarding Cuba? Will the death of the Castro brothers, especially of the father and architect of the Cuban revolution, Fidel, trigger a sea change in Cuba? It hasn’t happened yet, just small changes around the edges, mostly seeming to advantage the regime. A carefully controlled dictatorship with Fidel and his hardline supporters still influential, at least so far, has only resulted in a harsher crackdown on civil society where hopes of improvement have been dashed. Yet according to another theory, the oscillation of historical events according to a sort of Hegelian dialectic, excessive movement in one direction triggers a correction back toward the opposite side. A building up of forces working against left-leaning authoritarianism may be swinging a pendulum going too far in that direction back again. Certainly in Venezuela, that is happening, and perhaps throughout Latin America, and is also affecting Cuba, moving its leadership toward more dependence on the United States. How far does the US dare push to try to improve the lives and, yes, the freedom, of the majority of Cuban people? That might be characterized as interference in the nation’s internal affairs by the regime, but Cubans have many family members in the US who are concerned about their welfare, not to mention the growing support for certain universal human rights, as advocated by Amnesty International, the UN, and other international bodies.   

With all the terrorist copycat lone-wolf acts taking place in Europe and with ISIS egging them on via the internet, Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants is going to seem more attractive. Nor will European countries welcome Muslim immigrants. People everywhere will be afraid to gather in crowds. ISIS may be losing the ground war, but is winning the internet war, perhaps helped by leaks by WikiLeaks, calculated to mess up the political landscape and help Trump get elected, thereby to visit chaos on the US and the world. Some, without definitive proof, are calling it Julian Assange’s revenge, accomplished with the help of Russian hackers and maybe Edward Snowden?  Holed up in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy where they must be pretty tired of him and vice versa, he’s showing that he still has power to inflict harm. He predicts even more damaging leaks for Hillary still to come, an October surprise just before the election. If he had hoped for mercy, he surely won’t get it now.

Michael Moore is predicting a Trump victory. After the WikiLeaks leaks, plus polls showing the two candidates running even for a time, that’s no longer out-of-the-question.  Trump has foiled predictions of his demise as a presidential candidate for some time now. No matter how outrageous or unsubstantiated his pronouncements, many people are still excited about him— new face, new approach, new political language, new, new, new. Hillary Clinton is old, old, old. At the same time, you have to wonder what’s happening to his businesses and whether he might decide to quit before the election, especially if he is running behind. He is not accustomed to being criticized and challenged. He has attracted a lot of free media attention and fervent supporters with his antics, but he may not appreciate being made fun of (it’s not fun anymore for him now)—and his kids, who might be more rational, might convince him to quit.

Here’s a neuroscientist ascribing Trump’s appeal to basic and historic human instincts based on tribalism (wanting to belong), protection of home and family, insults to fire people up, and depicting life-or-death situations. He advises, “Whenever you feel angry, you have to ask yourself if you're being manipulated. Let the moment pass and ask yourself if aggression or violence is really the right way to fix a situation." 

The US effort in Cuba is a delicate one --to methodically work out agreements with the Cuba leadership to build mutual trust, starting with the easier stuff first: travel, increased remittances, and cultural and sports exchanges. The problem is that, so far, there has been no carryover to Cuban civil society. Instead, citizens, feeling more emboldened, are trying to chart a different course and are being forcibly stopped, often brutally. Given the Cuban leadership’s necessity to veer toward to the US for economic survival, can we negotiate with them to open up enough to allow others, including their own citizens, into the decision making process and thereby risk giving up their control? Could we have negotiated with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot?  Chamberlain apparently tried to negotiate with Hitler to no avail. But in South Africa, de Klerk and Mandela came to agreement. In Cuba, must we wait for the Castro brothers’ demise? (And what about a President Trump—would negotiation be possible by and with him?) It does seem that the US has made many concessions to the Cuban leadership and gotten very little in return—only that President Obama was allowed to visit and make a speech televised once and denounced by Fidel Castro. At the Communist Party Congress after Obama’s visit, the leadership doubled-down with their controls on citizens, controls both economic and on freedom of association and expression. Dissidents are physically attacked, sometimes inflicting serious injuries, as well as having their activities prevented and voices muzzled. (Those attacking are not only security forces, but such forces in plain clothes masquerading as patriotic citizens.) Would Hillary Clinton have another approach or would little Cuba, given all the hotter world challenges, even merit attention?
Elliot Abrams has a scathing article in Newsweek about the American Bar Association’s Cuba tours.
[Likewise, I recently saw a report of a tour by the American Library Association praising Cuban literacy and libraries, but making no mention of censorship and the confiscation of books from unauthorized and home libraries.]

People everywhere don't foresee and measure the likely effects of their political support and voting decisions. Many Brits are feeling the lamentable, but predictable, fallout of Brexit. Original supporters of Hugo Chavez have turned against his chosen successor Maduro who reported hearing a little bird talking to him in Chavez's voice. That's why I don't count on voters' common sense to defeat Trump. We've thought/hoped that the American public would finally wise up, but the more outrageous Trump becomes, the more a certain segment becomes more enthralled and more fervent. It's like how people threw caution to the winds to support Hitler, Mao, and Fidel Castro. Only later, when disaster actually had befallen them, did they change their minds, but then, it was too late.  

People also want a simple narrative, black and white, a shortcut without nuance or requiring any critical thinking. Many are too wrapped up in the challenges of everyday life to think before they vote.

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